Caleb Gardner is an amateur father and husband who writes at The Exceptional Man and dabbles in photography, design, and music. When listening to the cacophony of modern-day America, Caleb prefers a side of Scotch. He calls Chicago home, and in winter, less-nice things.
Let me start by coming clean: I have absolutely no answer to this question. And in the big picture – taking into consideration things like getting a good education, having a happy life and a fulfilling career, finding love – I suppose it isn’t that important. But it feels important to me.
When I found out I was having a son a little over two years ago, I realized that I was going to be the primary male influence in his life. This revelation was heavy, in a way that only parental responsibility can be. It caused a lot of gray hairs, and a lot of reflection on what kind of father – what kind of man – I wanted to be for my son.
I spent nights taking inventory of a host of questions I felt like I had to answer before he was born. They ranged from the noble (How do I want him to act? How do I want him to treat his mother – to treat all women? How do I teach him to have integrity? To be brave? To be kind?) to the peripheral (What kind of music should he listen to? How can I teach him to have style? To play sports? To approach a girl he likes without being a jerk about it?).
I know I’m not the first father, or even the first parent, to give consideration to these kinds of questions. Questions of character are universal. Of course we all want our children to be admirable people, to make a contribution to society, to be generous, etc. But if we’re honest, most of us also want the peripheral. We want our children to carry on our taste to the next generation.
My taste is one of the things that makes me me. It’s the opposite of universal: it defines me as an individual. And I guess I want my son to like the same things I like because he’s literally an extension of me as an individual. He’s my opportunity to validate myself. Dad, can I borrow your herringbone tweed sport coat? I have a date. I’m taking her to The National concert you recommended. We’re going to talk about how much the Dallas Cowboys suck.
Will I still be happy with him if he turns out to be a jumpsuit-wearing Nickelback fan? Of course I will. He’s my son, and I’m proud of him, regardless of the circumstances. I know he’ll eventually go through a period of rebellion, where everything I enjoy is the opposite of cool. But I like to think that I can intervene in the taste-defining process enough to point him in the right direction, without having him resent me.
How am I going to do this? No idea. But I’m going to start by introducing him to the things I like just as he introduces me to the things he likes. Hours of watching Thomas the Tank Engine have already given me a head start.
Does this feel as important to you as it does to me? How do you share your interests with your kids?